A Woman, a Plan, No Canals: Bitterblue!

A curious Owlet has asked me to say a bit more about my book plan for Book 3, so I thought I’d do that here. Don’t worry, no spoilers — I’m not going to tell you what’s in the plan, I’m just going to talk about how the plan works.

(By the way, if you’re not interested in process, this is liable to be the most soporific post ever. You might want to skip down to the one about Cordelia in the bathtub.)

I said in my last post that the book plan is 20 typed, single-spaced pages. Actually, it’s 17 typed, single-spaced pages and six stapled pages of handwritten notes — and 50+ grocery receipts, post-its, torn pieces of envelopes, etc. which reside in various parts of the apartment, such as on my desk, on my bedside table, on my coffee table, in books I’m reading, and in the bottoms of about five different purses. This is not an ideal book plan situation, but it seems to be the way it has to be with this book. I have never had such a big book plan before and I have never been so overwhelmed by my book plan!
The REAL plan is the 17 stapled, typed, single-spaced pages (the handwritten pages and all the scattered notes are just addenda that I’ll have to incorporate into the typed document at some point), and it does have a fairly clear structure. I start with a list of big and important questions that I need to remember to consider as I’m writing, and under that, a list of big and important themes. Then I get into the real stuff, the plot. My plot plan is divided into sections, a different section for each major plot point. Oh dear. I have just counted, and it seems that there are 47 major plot points. Perhaps this is part of my problem? :o)
Seriously, though, not all of these “major plot points” are actually that major. They are not all things like, “Bitterblue Gets Eaten by a Shark” or “Katsa Accidentally Blows Up the Castle.” (THOSE ARE NOT ACTUAL THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THE BOOK.) Some of them are as vague as “Strange Things Happen in Background” or “Some Po Stuff,” so that I’m reminded that there need to be strange things happening here and there, or that at some point I need to follow up on what’s going on with with my character Po.
Anyhoo. Each plot point heading is listed in boldface type, and underneath each heading is a bulleted list of EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT that has ever popped into my head that bears any relation to that plot point: every possible conversation the characters might have, every single thing I might need to remember about what came before or what comes after in order to write this part well, every single emotion the characters might be feeling at that point — basically, EVERYTHING, be it a clever turn of phrase, a question to myself, a single word I’d like to use, a funny joke I’d like to add, a description of the landscape, WHATEVER, that I think MIGHT be relevant to my writing at that point in the book. This is why the plan is so long: I have entire scenes of dialogue in it, and I have plot alternatives, and things I’ll never use, and also a lot of repetition.
It sounds like a big mess, and that’s because it is a big mess, but it’s way less of a mess than it would be if I did it any other way. This book has a gazillion details, more details than anything else I’ve ever written, and until I’ve written the whole book, I can’t be sure which details are the important ones. So I have to make sure I have all of them written down somewhere, so I don’t forget them. Because I will forget them. If I don’t write my ideas down, even the tiniest, most irrelevant ones, I forget them, every time. That’s why I have post-it notes clogging the bottom of all of my purses. My neighbors surely think I’m a lunatic. I go for “athletic walks,” all suited up in my workout clothes, carrying post-its and a pen.
Anyway. The other frustrating thing is that the plan is always growing. You’d expect it to get shorter as the book itself gets longer and I cross things off the plan. But no, the book plan just keeps getting longer and longer, because as I write the beginning and middle parts of the book, the middle and ending parts get more fleshed out in my mind and I have to keep adding new things to the plan.
I forgot to mention that there is very little white space in the typed plan, because it is also covered with handwritten notes and additions.
The last thing I’ll say about the plan is that on the first page there is a huge, capitalized, boldfaced warning that says: DANGER. THERE IS TOO MUCH IN THIS PLAN. DON’T GET SUCKED IN. This gets to what I was saying in my last post about how what I’ve written so far of the book feels a little too tight, too controlled. This book is so detail-rich that I’m in danger of losing the feeling of the book and getting too caught up in things: plot points, clues, knowledge. I actually try not to look at the plan too much as I’m writing. I’ll glance at the plan to remind myself of what I need to be doing, but I’m trying not to get too attached. I need to give the book space to grow how it wants to grow, and not keep trying to force it into the very confining structure of the book plan I’ve created.
I guess there is one more thing I’ll say about this plan, and every other plan I’ve worked with: it lists the whole story I’m planning to write, from beginning to end — but guaranteed, it will change. When I’m starting a book, it’s a great comfort to me to know that I have a plot all thought out. It comforts me to know that I have somewhere solid to go. But really it’s just a comfort thing. Without fail, the book comes up with better ideas than the ones I had, and we turn away from the plan together.
It takes me about a year and a half of full-time writing to write the first draft of a fantasy novel. (It won’t surprise me if this one takes longer. I’m dealing with a lot of interruption these days, and this book is tricky in unique ways.)
Anyway, thank you for your patience reading all of that, and I hope I haven’t bored anyone to death. :o) Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!